Environmental panel says get tougher than DCA on growth rules for rural fringe

Thursday, June 6, 2002

By DENISE ZOLDAN, dczoldan@naplesnews.com

Just because a state agency isn't demanding that golf courses be removed from greenbelts in Collier County's rural fringe growth plan, it doesn't mean they should remain, a majority of Environmental Advisory Council members said Wednesday.

"I would prefer to see Collier County do the best job possible rather than just what is required," said Erica Lynne, an EAC member.

The panel voted 3-2 to add three changes to the rural fringe plan, to which the state Department of Community Affairs registered nine objections and 12 recommendations on May 23.

The environmental panel was the first group presented with the state agency's objections and the county staff's responses. County planning commissioners will hear the same information today.

Collier County commissioners will cast a final vote on the growth plan and recommended changes June 18. The growth plan then will be shipped back to DCA for final approval. The DCA oversees the state-mandated growth plans for Florida's 67 counties.

Collier's growth plan for the 93,000-acre area dubbed the rural fringe from Collier Boulevard through Golden Gate Estates is an outgrowth of a 1999 order from Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet. That order requires the county to do a better job protecting wetlands and wildlife. The order froze most new development in rural Collier County until new growth rules are in effect.

A separate growth plan stemming from the same order is under way for some 200,000 acres around Immokalee.

Discussing the Golden Gate Estates plan Wednesday, the county environmental panel agreed with most of the staff recommendations to change the plan to gain DCA approval.

But the panel also sought a tougher stance on golf courses.

The DCA recommended that Collier not allow golf courses in the greenbelts set aside for conservation or wildlife habitat, but the agency didn't formally object to them, meaning the county doesn't have to comply. The staff recommendations included no changes to where golf courses could be located.

"Just because the DCA isn't forcing us to do something ... doesn't mean we should be proud of this," Lynne said.

In a letter to the county staff, DCA chief of planning Charles Gauthier wrote:

"It is important that the county carefully considers and adequately addresses the issues raised in our objections. Our comments are advisory in nature and intended to assist the county in further strengthening the amendments."

On the topic of golf courses in greenbelts, the DCA said: "Allowing golf courses within the greenbelts can lead to the proliferation of golf courses in the rural area and may defeat the purpose of the greenbelts. Golf courses and its attendant uses represent a form of development which are generally more suitable in urban areas."

A majority of the environmental panel members also recommended against allowing sewer lines and sewer lift stations in conservation and protection areas, something the DCA didn't mention.

Bob Mulhere, the former planning director for the county who now works for the planning company RWA and who was hired by the county to see the process through, said prohibiting sewer lines in conservation areas could mean installing more pipes to reach developable areas.

The backbone of the rural fringe plan is a Transfer of Development Rights, or TDR, program that would limit growth in parts of the rural fringe. In return, landowners in those areas called sending areas would be able to sell their development rights to developers who could use them to build more homes in less environmentally sensitive areas called receiving areas.

Sending areas could separate the receiving areas from already developed sections of the county where sewer lines exist, meaning sewer lines might need to cross sending areas (conservation areas) to reach receiving areas.

The EAC also wanted more restrictions on what could be done with agricultural land in sending areas to protect natural resources.

The EAC chose not to change, from conditional-use to permitted use, oil drilling and exploration rights in sending and conservation areas. That change had been requested by Ernie Cox, attorney for Barron Collier Properties and Collier Enterprises. Adopting the change would mean Collier County would become first in line to take such rights away from the property owners; federal and state agencies now head that list, Cox said.

Other staff changes proposed in response to DCA objections include:

n Providing a map identifying property that will be eligible for density blending, placing a limit on the amount of land eligible for density blending and providing an analysis of the land suitable for density blending. Density blending allows mixed uses.

n Defining the rules that will dictate the intensity of commercial and industrial uses allowed on agricultural/rural land.

n Spelling out the specifics on the types of density and intensity to be allowed in receiving lands and rural villages rather than deferring to the Land Development Code.

n Deleting from the plan language that allows the County Commission to change the exchange rates for the TDRs, moving them up or down.

n Removing from the receiving areas land that is located in the Coastal High Hazard Areas (flood-prone).

n Further defining the guidelines for where rural villages may be located.

n Changing from 1 unit per 3 acres to zero the number of residences allowed on publicly owned conservation land. Allowing oil and mineral extraction as a conditional-use only.

n Defining the exact uses allowed in Natural Resource Protection Areas.

The Planning Commission meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. today in the County Commission chambers at the Collier County Government Center on U.S. 41 East.

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